Does obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ matter to evangelicals today?
You might notice that grace is very big with our churches today. Mercy is also big. Forgiveness is big. And those realities should be big with us. Apart from the grace of God, the mercy of God and the forgiveness of God through Jesus, we’d all rightly be damned to hell. But having been rescued from hell by our Savior, do we really believe this great salvation now leaves us with any duties? Jesus did, when He said in John 14:23-24: “‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. … Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.'” He underscored this truth when he asked, in Luke 6:46: “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” And what about Jesus’ plain directive in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments?”
Commandments, people ask? Like, the Old Testament stuff? But we’re under the New Covenant! Ephesians 2:8-9! We are not under law, but under grace! Not only that, but Jesus fulfilled the law for me, because I couldn’t keep it! All my righteousness is as filthy rags. What I need to do now is rest in Him. I’m not perfect — just forgiven.
All true — but something is missing, isn’t it? As Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once noted, “We must be very observant of people’s subtractions from the truth on the one hand, and of their additions to the truth on the other. … There is no doubt that this question of subtracting from the truth, or leaving out part of the message, is a very vital one at the present time. You hear people talking about the Bible, and they can talk about the cross, but it is important to notice what they do not say about them.”
So what part of the truth is the church leaving out today? I believe it is this critical emphasis on the Christian’s duty to obey Christ. Instead, we excuse sin, justify sin, downplay sin or even try to make sin look like it isn’t sin at all! We see this tendency when a pastor who cusses from the pulpit dismisses his unwholesome talk as “being authentic.” We see it when a dating couple justifies their fornication by saying, “in God’s eyes, we’re already married.” We see it when people in ministry cheat, lie or steal and then play the “I’m no different than you are, because we’re all sinners!” card. And we see it in the lives of those who “pray the sinner’s prayer” at a church camp or conference, yet return home with seemingly no desire at all to live a life of total obedience to the Lord they just claimed to embrace.
What is totally shocking is the general reaction in the church to these kinds of situations. I’ve observed that there is virtually no lamenting of this rapid downgrade in personal holiness and Christian obedience. Instead, there is a doubling-down on cheap grace as those who dare to object to this trend are labeled Pharisees or — my personal favorite — “legalists.”
Yet it is anything but legalistic to obey Jesus Christ! Bible expositor Arthur W. Pink put it this way: “Obedience to the Lord in life, not merely glowing words from the lips, is what Christ requires. What a searching and solemn word is that in James 1:22: ‘But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves!‘ There are many ‘hearers’ of the Word, regular hearers, reverent hearers, interested hearers; but alas, what they hear is not incorporated into the life: it does not regulate their way. And God says that they who are not doers of the Word are deceiving their own selves! Alas, how many such there are in Christendom today!”
This is a very sobering truth, and perhaps it explains why we continually hear silly, media-devised questions like, “What will evangelicals do if ‘gay marriage’ is legalized, and pastors are forced to conduct wedding ceremonies for these couples in their churches?” If you think about it, the question itself should be offensive to us. It should be as ridiculous to us as asking, “What will evangelicals do if the U.S. government mandates that their churches have to stop preaching the gospel?” We would respond like Peter and the apostles of old, wouldn’t we? “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29) Certainly, we should obey God rather than men in every instance where the two allegiances irreconcilably clash. But would we obey Christ if it began to cost us — really cost us — something dear to us?
We may very well face a situation in which the U.S. government comes down hard upon evangelicals over the so-called “homosexual marriage” issue. We may well face much worse in our lifetimes, facing further pressures we cannot, at this moment, imagine. But will we obey Christ, no matter what? Well, I would ask this: If obeying Christ is not our highest priority in a time of relative ease and prosperity, what makes us think it will suddenly become our priority in an age of intense pressure or even outright persecution?
What we all need to do is to settle the matter today. It all starts by asking ourselves: “Is Jesus Christ truly the Lord of my life? Does He rule me? Does He really have the right to tell me what to do in every aspect of my life? And do I really love Him enough to do what He commands in His Word? Am I willing to obey Him in all things?” If the answer to these questions is yes, then we must praise Him for His goodness to us and continue to obey Him. And if the answer is no, then we must question whether we really believe in Him or belong to Him at all — and repent.
We also must remember that obeying Christ is never merely a duty, but the Christian’s joy! Our obedience to Christ on earth will never be perfect, but to make it our priority is just our loving response to the Savior who first loved us and gave Himself up for us. What could be a greater delight?
“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” (I John 5:3)